On my drive to work this morning, the radio kept warning me that “traffic lights in Montgomery County are out of sync,”  causing delays. While this did not affect my commute too terribly, it did make me think about how reliant we are on not only the traffic lights themselves, but also on the computers that make them run efficiently.  Then I got to work and discovered that our server was not talking to our individual computers, which meant I couldn’t access our collections database, use the networked printer, or – most importantly! – get to the blog.  It’s all better now, thankfully, but after days like this I try to not take all our modern technology for granted. . . for about twelve hours, anyway.

Our collections are filled with tools and gadgets that predate digital connections, computers, and even electricity.  We’ve already featured a fireless cooker and a foot-powered seed planter.  As I thought about a day without technology, the first thing that came to my mind was our small collection of coffee mills.  (Coffee is very important!)  So in honor of my problematic morning, here’s Waddel’s Coffee Mill, patented in 1888.  The idea is simple: pour the coffee beans in the top funnel and turn the crank; the crank rotates a series of metal gears which grind up the beans, and the fresh coffee falls into the metal cup (at left) inside the box.  Just like our modern electric coffee grinders, but with a different power source: you!I’m so sorry, this is Waddel’s IMPROVED Coffee Mill, which “is offered to ‘suffering humanity’ as an article long needed.”  (Click on the photo above to get a close-up view of the whole description.)  So according to the manufacturers, this is a technological advancement after all – albeit one I could continue to use if my electricity went out.